Signs point to fierce flu season, experts say

Dec. 11, 2014—The 2014–15 flu season is just getting underway, and experts say it could be more severe than usual. That makes vaccinations and other flu-fighting measures particularly important this year.

“We continue to recommend flu vaccine as the single best way to protect yourself against the flu,” said Tom Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One reason for concern is that the most common flu strain found so far this year is a type called influenza A H3N2. Often, when these types of viruses lead the way, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths go up, according to CDC.

In addition, about half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed so far have changed—or drifted—to the point that the vaccine available this year is not entirely effective against it.

But that’s no reason to avoid the flu shot or nasal spray vaccine, experts say. For one thing, the vaccine is designed to protect against 3 or 4 different flu viruses. Even if H3N2 protection is less than ideal, the vaccine still helps prevent illnesses caused by other flu strains.

If vaccination doesn’t prevent the flu altogether, it still may help lessen the severity of the illness, even for those who get the H3N2 variety.

Second line of defense

While vaccines help prevent the flu, antiviral medicines are available to help people who do become infected. These drugs can shorten the duration of the illness and limit its severity, according to CDC.

Antiviral medication can be especially helpful for those at highest risk for flu complications. That includes young children; people 65 and older; and those with ongoing health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.

These drugs are most effective when given within 48 hours of getting sick. If you think you may have the flu, call your doctor right away. Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills, and fatigue.
The take-home message

During National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 7 through 13, CDC is reminding people there is still time to get a flu shot or nasal spray. But there is more you can do to protect yourself—and others—from the flu. For instance:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And stay home and away from others if you get sick.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Wash your hands often. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are clean.
Disinfect surfaces that may harbor germs at home, work or school.
Get plenty or rest and exercise, and eat nutritious food to stay in good health.

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